DIY Science: Crystal Snowflakes

  • Living in North Carolina, we don’t get to see too many snowflakes. So, today at the GSC we are making snowflakes that will last all year long!

For this experiment you will need the following:

  • String or ribbon
  • Wide mouth glass jar
  • White pipe cleaners
  • Borax
  • Pencil or popsicle stick
  • Boiling water
  • Food coloring (opt.)
  • Scissors
  • Adult supervision

snowflake_1

Let’s make some snowflakes!

  • Safety Check! Make sure all long hair is tied back when working around the stove and with chemicals. Borax makes a great laundry booster, but should not be eaten! Thoroughly clean all utensils and cookware before reuse and do not eat the crystals.
  • First things first, make the snowflake shape. Cut a white pipe cleaner into three equal sections, and twist the sections together at their centers to form a six-sided snowflake shape.

snowflake_3

** You can get as creative as you want with this, feel free to make whatever shapes you like! Just make sure your desired shape is small enough to not  touch any sides of the jar, and can be easily removed.  

  • Tie the string to the end of one of the snowflake’s branches. Tie the other end of the string to the pencil or popsicle stick. The string should be long enough to suspend the snowflake in the jar without having it touch the sides or bottom of the jar.
  • In a pot, bring the water to a boil, and begin adding borax one tablespoon at a time and stir continuously as you add more. As a general rule of thumb, you should add about 3 tablespoons of borax per cup of water. Make sure all the Borax is completely dissolved. ( Since we decided to make three crystal snowflakes, we ended up using 6 cups of water and 22 tablespoons of borax)
  • Fill the widemouth pint jar with the boiling water and borax mixture. Feel free to add a few drops of food coloring if you want colored crystals.
  • Hang the pipe cleaner snowflake in the jar so that the pencil rests on top of the jar and the snowflake is completely covered with liquid, and hangs freely (not touching the bottom of the jar).
  • Allow the jar to sit in an undisturbed location overnight, and check the following day! 

The science behind it all :

When you mix borax and water, you create a “suspension” of borax. A suspension is a mixture that contains solid particles large enough to settle out but almost too tiny to see. It looks murky. By mixing the borax into hot water, the borax stays suspended much longer within the water. Hot water molecules are moving very fast and are spread out, which makes space available for more borax to dissolve. As the solution cools, the water molecules slow down and move closer together. That means there’s less room for the dissolved borax.

As the borax molecules settle out of the cooling suspension due to gravity, bonding with other borax molecules on areas such as bumps and cracks (like the pipe cleaner fibers) and begin to form seeds for further crystallization. This is why pipe cleaners work better to make crystals than something smooth like a stick. You’ll see this crystallization on the bottom and sides of the container, on the string hanging from the pencil, and on the pipe cleaner arms of the snowflake. The borax continues to fall and crystalize on top of the snowflake and on top of other borax crystals until you pull it out of the water the next morning.

We used a little more than 3 tablespoons of Borax per cup of water to make a supersaturated solution. This means that we added as much Borax as we could dissolve to the water without it settling to the bottom.  This insured that there was enough Borax in the solution to form crystals.

It is important to note that an experiment uses a variable (something that changes) to answer a question. To turn this demonstration into an experiment, you have to change something! Check out these ideas to get you started:

  • What happens to the crystals if you use more or less Borax in the same amount of water??
  • How much longer does it take for salt or sugar crystals to form under the same conditions?
  • What happens when you combine a sugar and borax in the solution? (Do not eat!)

Try it and let us know how your experiment turned out on our Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter page using the hashtag #gscscience!

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This entry was posted in DIY Science, Science Explained by greensborosciencecenter. Bookmark the permalink.

About greensborosciencecenter

The Greensboro Science Center offers three fascinating attractions in one wild destination! We are the only facility in North Carolina that offers an aquarium, museum, and zoo. Spend the day with us and come nose to beak with playful penguins, get eye to eye with awesome otters, explore the human body, experience Mother Nature’s fury and fun, and encounter exotic animals like gibbons, meerkats, and lemurs!

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